The Usual Saturday Dive

Divers Down
Beginning the descent to the reef at Puako
It has been over a month since I have been in the water. We do live on an island, with world class beaches and reefs just 15 minutes from the house. How can we not go to the beach every weekend?

Well, there is work, and these little events like the Transit of Venus. One thing or another conspires to interfere with getting some proper time in the water.

With a holiday weekend on hand it is time to change that. Thus Deb and I joined the Keck crew for a Saturday morning dive. A routine dive at End-of-Road Puako, one of our favorite spots. It was a fair group… Kirk, Mark and Patti, Pete, Tomas and his daughter Angela, Deb and myself, a veritable pod of divers.

We parked under the usual trees, swam out from the usual spot and dropped into the usual set of canyons. I wandered here and there with the camera, looking for anything interesting to photograph. Nothing really special, a couple decent photos including a Keferstein’s sea cucumber. Simply a nice day to be in the water, perhaps the start of a pleasant summer dive season?

Diving Puako

The storms seem to have passed, the swell subsided, time for another dive.

While the invitation was extended to all of our usual crew, Pete was the only one to accompany us for the day. A small dive party this time, no problem, the arrangements were a little last minute. Some swell was forecast so we headed to a sheltered spot, End-of-Road, Puako.

Pete over Coral
Pete enjoying a dive at End-of-Road, Puako
With our tanks in for hydrostatic testing it was necessary to rent a pair for the day. No problem, just rent a couple tanks at Kohala Divers for the day. They always have tanks available for walk-in business. Worse yet, we have to return them, and they are just downstairs from Kohala Burger and Taco for an after dive lunch. Inconvenience all the way around.

Conditions at End of Road were fairly good, a bit choppy perhaps, but no current in the cove. Visibility was OK, but not great, a little bit of murk floating in the water from the swell. Having not used the End of Road site lately, we followed the usual plan, cut north out of the cove to drop into the first couple canyons. The goal was a long, relaxed, shallow dive to explore the caves and canyon walls.

I came across nothing new or spectacular on this dive. There were sleeping turtles everywhere in the caves, we found at least a half a dozen. A big moray met me face to face in one crevice. A nice weekend dive, another 80 minutes spent underwater.

The battery compartment on my strobe flooded. When I realized this I quickly surfaced and removed the batteries. At least the compartment is sealed from the remainder of the unit, thus there was little harm. The rechargeable AA NiMH batteries themselves are likely toast, with electrochemically corroded contacts.

Without the strobe I did use a small LED flashlight to illuminate some targets for photography. But the beam was much too narrow and concentrated. Perhaps a small modeling light is in order, something with a bright, but broad beam that can illuminate a target one or two feet in front of the camera. This would be great for cave and night diving, also providing a backup.

Deb and I are off for the week. I had to use up some vacation time, Deb is on spring break from the school. Our tanks have passed hydro and are ready to pick up. I expect another dive in our near future.

Mahukona Harbor

Heading north from Kawaihae there is some of the best diving in the islands. Most of the sites along this rugged coast northern are best dived from a boat. You can reach many from shore, but access can be tricky and a matter of knowing which 4WD road will get you to a usable put in point. There are a couple exceptions where access is easy, the best is Mahukona.

What you find here is a small port from the days when sugarcane and cattle were transported on small steamships that plied the waters up and down the Hawaiian Islands. A substantial pier and other facilities were built in a small cove to serve the north end of the island. A railway terminated here, allowing products to be brought in from much of North Kohala. Most of that is gone now, replaced by good roads, semi trucks and the large port at Kawaihae. What is left is a sleepy little cove with perfect water and great diving.

Exploring the Wreckage
Deborah exploring wreckage from the SS Kauai at Mahukona
The area is a county park used by locals and the few tourists that venture this far north. Camping is allowed by permit and there are some facilities, but maintenance is a little scarce. The large concrete wharf is in decent shape and allows parking right at the water. Do be aware of boat traffic, this is still a harbor. Power boats are unusual here, it is a long way to any boat launch, but we have seen one come into the harbor… once. The usual traffic here are the many kayaks and rowing canoes that use Mahukona as a put-in or pull-out point.

A steel ladder at the top of the wharf provides access right into the water. The access is simply the easiest I have ever used on a shore dive. No sand, no slippery rock, simply a parking lot at the waters edge!

View Larger Map
Google map of the Mahukona dive site, click on the markers and the course line for specific information.

Once you leave the pier head for the center of the harbor. You will quickly find several heavy mooring chains. Large and obvious these chains are heavily encrusted with coral, simply follow them out to the wreck of the Steamship Kauai. The wreck lies in 12-24 feet of water at the center of the harbor.

The engine and propeller are the largest parts to be found and are a little to the north of the large sandy area at the center of the cove. The propeller is in only about 12-15ft of water, accessible to snorkelers as well as divers. Connected to the propeller by the shaft is the large steam engine. This is less obvious when you first see it, but hard to miss once you know what it is. Closer inspection will show numerous pipes, control linkages and the large flywheel at the rear of the engine. Looking into the engine you can see the crankshaft and the numerous fish that find the engine a perfect hangout. Spend some time here, we have found a dwarf moray, blue dragon nudibranch and great fish at the engine.

Scattered out from the engine is a great deal of other evidence of the wreck. The steamship had a cargo of agricultural products and railroad parts when it sank. You will find quite a few wheel sets for narrow gauge rail car use, one is under the engine, others in the middle of the sandy area just seawards of the engine. Cables, piping and ballast bricks are everywhere. A boiler can be found on the north edge of the sandy area, about 4ft in diameter and 12ft long. Check inside to see who is home.

We found three different species of moray eels here, good fish and healthy coral. Not many large fish, fishing and spear hunting is allowed in the area. The small fish area very numerous with large numbers of fry int the shallows and around the wharf.

Mahukona is just about the perfect shore dive site. Park on the pier, and just drop your gear in the water. Shallow diving unless you head out of the cove, but a lot to see in the harbor, you may never make it any further. This site makes for a long shallow dive exploring a little local history.

Kohala Dive Operations

Most of the Kona side dive operations operate out of Honokohau Harbor, giving access to dive sites from Kailua Bay to well north of the airport. These are the operations most divers visiting the Big Island are familiar with. The diving is good around Honokohau, but can be limited, island divers know that the character of the reef is different as you move north or south.

Experienced divers will often recommend diving the Puako and North Kohala reefs. Here the shoreline is notably older, where the volcanoes have not sent lava flows into the sea for many thousands of years. The reefs have had much longer to establish themselves, resulting in heavier coral growth and rich sea life.

If you want to try the sites further north, along the Kohala Coast, you need to choose another outfit to dive with. Two local dive ops operate along the Kohala coast, Blue Wilderness and Kohala Divers. Both outfits are small businesses, locally owned and operated, the owners often on the boat with you.

Continue reading “Kohala Dive Operations”

Kohala Diving Guide

My March project is to move all of the dive guide articles over from the old blog. Most of them are already moved over, scheduled to post through this month. Copied and pasted over from the old blog, I have gone through them and updated the posts with current information. The series of blog articles provides a nice guide to anyone exploring the Kohala coast with the plan of getting in the water to snorkel and dive.

A Perfect Day for a Dive

It really was one of those perfect days to live in Hawaii.

First stop on the way was to get some air. Our tanks were empty, something we needed to change. This was accomplished at The Scuba Shack, a great dive shop just below Costco on the Kaloko business park. It is a funky place, with anything and everything a diver needs. One of the best services offered is quick fills… In and out in about five minutes with two full tanks of air, $5 each.

Relaxing After the Dive
Relaxing after the dive at O’oma, Patti, Mark, Deb and Kirk (left to right)
We met up with the usual gang at O’oma. Mark had suggested we try a dive just north of what the surfers call Pine Trees. The area is classic Big Island beach… Drive along the shore over sand and lava, check out the surfers enjoying a small swell over the breaks, smell the barbeques from families set up for a weekend on the beach.

Continue reading “A Perfect Day for a Dive”

Yet Another Whitemouth Moray

Yet another photo of a Whitemouth Moray on a Kohala reef. Well? they are the most common moray to be found at scuba depths. At this point I have an extensive collection of Whitemouth Moray photos. They are common, photogenic, and quite cooperative, they sit still while you take the photo.

I only found three of them in the afternoon and evening of diving…

Whitemouth Moray
A Whitemouth Moray (Gymnothorax meleagris) in the reef at Mahukona